BUFFALO, N.Y. — Almost immediately after the 18-year-old male shot 13 people, killing 10 was apprehended, authorities in Buffalo made clear he was acting as, what they call, a “lone wolf”.
He came in from Conklin, New York – nearly a four-hour drive – but a team of researchers says labeling this a lone wolf attack might be misleading.
“We consider a lone wolf attack somebody who commits a crime without the organized support of an organization,” said a researcher that asked only to be called Michael. “But from an ideology perspective, this is not a single person. This is a person parroting ideology that is shared by dozens, if not hundreds of people in the Western New York area.”
Police confirmed the Buffalo shooter wasn’t affiliated with any particular organization. But when it comes to acting on violence – experts say assailants operate off of shared ideas, rather than shared affiliation.
“We have lots of racists in our community. Many of them do very nasty things to people. But to reach the level of white supremacist, you're willing to take steps to change the demographics of your community using violence,” said Michael.
A growing theory called stochastic terrorism suggests that shared thoughts can be just as dangerous as an organized network.
“It's the idea that once you put out enough ideology, once you put out enough rhetoric, it's just a matter of time before someone is going to do something,” said another member of the research team who asked us not to use their name.
Experts point to the manifesto where the Buffalo killer praised other mass shooters as proof these ideas planted in the wrong mind, grow.
“Mass shooters all follow a similar pathway to this violence,” said Jaclyn Schildkraut, a national expert on mass shootings. “Then, then they start to fantasize about violently exacting means against these sort of grievances.”
There is no evidence any local extremist groups encouraged this act, but their response is being followed closely.
“We're monitoring the local folks as closely as we can to see how they're reacting and whether their implied desires to be violent start coming true,” said Heidi I. Jones, a local attorney, and researcher. “Are they starting to make plans?”
The question remains, what do these local organizations which veer toward extremism believe, and how closely are they aligned to the killer’s manifesto?
“They believe that in the city, folks are basically stealing resources. And they have always had a fear of people who receive government assistance,” said Michael. “They've always had a fear of people that are in the protected classes. And so they leverage that because their concept of an ideal society is one that's run by white people who are independently successful.”
“Underneath it is really the genocidal thought that those folks shouldn't exist and that only privileged white men should have power,” added Jones.
Researchers have been able to track publicly posted responses to the mass shooting and are flagging any content which might suggest action. Right now, all they’re seeing are conspiracy theories gaining steam.
“The most common response has been that this is what they're calling a ‘false flag operation’. That (the shooter) was either tricked into doing this or convinced or entrapped in some way by the federal government, by the FBI, that this is all part of a larger ploy to take away people's guns,” said the researcher who asked for anonymity.
The main concern for experts, authorities, and researchers alike is the opportunity for another similar event in the near future.
"This kind of terrorism is very, very common. And it's commonly repeated because it gains sensationalism and then people can repeat it. These are becoming regular, routine events because they're successful," said Michael.
11Alive reporter Madison Carter asks, "What makes them “successful”?
"For the folks that are committing these crimes, their ideology is around the elimination of a particular group of people. So anything that kills or injures a mass quantity of people is going to meet their goals," Michael says.